No Greater Joy (Inexpressible Joy #1)

No Greater Joy (Inexpressible Joy #1)

Nearly ten years ago, during a years break from ministry, I took the opportunity to have a 365 degree review which was compiled for me by a friend and colleague. This was an extensive review and there was a huge amount to work through. One comment that has always stood out was the question: “Do I always show myself to be overflowing with joy in God?” If I am honest I did not really know what to do with that comment and it has been lingering away all these years. The reason for that is likely because the comment had a ring of truth to it especially during what were some tough times that we were going through at the time.

So why am I telling you this? I have been wrestling with various ideas for content for a summer programme I am running overseas. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that the subject of joy has finally emerged. My usual process is to blog my way through the content to deepen my own thoughts on this and provide a foundation on which others can work from. In all of this the question remains from years back: do others observe me to be overflowing with joy?

Paul makes clear that we are to be joyful: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). The Oxford dictionary defines joy as a vivid emotion of pleasure and gladness, something that causes delight. But what is distinctive about Biblical joy? There has to be something more to it than the kind of joy experienced by one and all.

In the Psalms joy is often linked with praise and celebration, especially in relation to what God had done for His people. In Luke 10:21 after the seventy-two return from their mission we read that Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit”. In fact the life of Jesus is filled with references to joy and rejoicing (e.g., Luke 1:43-44, 2:10-11, Mark 11:7-10, Matt 28:8, Luke 24:50-53). In Galatians 5:22-23 Joy is mentioned as part of the fruit of the Spirit. There is plenty we could unpack here, but I want to turn instead to Peter’s description of joy.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

In Peter’s letters he is writing to the believers who had been scattered during the first few decades of the early church. He refers to them in this letter as exiles, foreigners, aliens, temporary residents and sojourners. We know that persecution played a significant role in the growth of the early church and it is noteworthy that it is a recurring theme here in Peter’s letters. Listen to what Peter has to say in the first chapter of his first letter and in particular look out for what he says about joy.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9

In verses 3-5, Peter brings praise and thankfulness to God the Father for what He had done in their lives. He speaks of how God in His great mercy had given them new birth into a living hope and into an inheritance that could not be taken from them. In the face of persecution this hope would have been massive for them, it not the kind of hope which fades like so many of our hopes in this world. Peter wants them to know that their hope is certain and their inheritance awaits them in heaven. Then in v6-7, Paul refers to the grief they were suffering from all kinds of trials and he fleshes out the purpose of those trials.

In v9, Peter speaks of the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Presumably he is looking forward here to when Jesus comes back – it is only then that we will fully experience the end result of our faith. Before that Peter speaks in v8 of how they had not seen Jesus – not in the way he had at least. But nevertheless they still love Jesus, believe in Jesus and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy in Jesus. Wayne Grudem writes: “The word translated “joy inexpressible” occurs only here in the New Testament, and describes a joy so profound as to be beyond the power of words to express.” This incredible joy comes to people like us who have not seen Jesus and who are also facing difficulties, trials and persecutions. This is certainly no ordinary joy and it is a joy that should be in the experience of all who know and love Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour!

“The people of God ought to be the happiest people in all the wide world! People should be coming to us constantly and asking the source of our joy and delight.”

A. W. Tozer

The deep sense of joy mentioned in 1 Peter was rooted in the love of, belief in and experience of Jesus Christ. Pablo Martinez in his book Take Care of Yourself (2018 Dictum Press), emphasises that God’s presence is a source of joy.  He makes the point that Christian joy goes beyond feelings and is a condition of deep wellbeing. He sees joy as an essential ingredient of the relationship between us and our maker: God always intended fellowship with Him to be a source of pleasure. 

“God’s creative design was that your ravenous appetite for pleasure find fulfilment in Him, for nothing more wonderfully reveals His glory than the joy the creature has in its Creator.”

Sam Storms, Pleasures Evermore

We also see this in John 16:16-24 where Jesus tells His disciples: “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me” (v16). They were confused and Jesus could see that they wanted to ask Him about it so He told them:

20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16:20-24

In Jesus’ explanation, He says that they would grieve, but their grief would turn to joy (v21). Why? Because they would rejoice in seeing Him again and no-one would take away that joy. The Father would give them whatever they asked for in His name. They would ask and they would receive. Therefore He says that their joy would be complete. Biblical joy it seems is rooted in the person and presence of Christ. The following quotations comment on the contrast wit some of the ways that we often seek after joy:

“Christian joy is the experience of gladness or happiness, not in plans or possessions or people, but in God.”

Finding Joy, Marcus Honeysett, pg. 13.

“We should thank God for every stream of joy in our lives while recognising that Christ is the ocean from which every stream flows.”

Randy Allcorn, Happiness

“Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.”

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, pg. 132.

Our joy is made complete when we seek and find it in the person and presence of Jesus Christ. Other things will of course bring us joy, but not in the same enduring way as a relationship with the one who made us, sustains us and works for our good.

Photo by Jill Wellington on

Paul’s letter to the Philippians contains lots of references to joy. In fact, joy is a central theme of the entire letter! In 1:3-4 Paul speaks of how he prays for the Philippians with joy because of their partnership in the gospel. In the verses that follow we find Paul wrestling with his desire to depart and be with Christ: something he says is better by far. But then in v24-25a Paul tells us them he has concluded that it’s more necessary for them that he remains. What Paul understands of what it means to remain is particularly interesting and says a lot about Paul’s DNA for making disciples. He writes: 

25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

Philippians 1:25-26

These are fabulous verses and they shift attention from our own joy towards that of others. Paul’s conclusion is that his purpose in remaining with them is all about seeking their progress and joy in the faith. But Paul doesn’t stop there, but goes on to say that this is so that their boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of him. Wow that is quite the statement of intent! Other versions translate this as ‘take pride in Christ’ (NLT), ‘overflow in Christ’ (AMP) or ‘rejoice abundantly’ (KJV).

On account of his ministry with them, Paul wants them to delight in Christ and have that delight overflow in and through their lives. Elsewhere Paul says: “…we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm” (2 Corinthians 1:24). If those inspiring words don’t motivate you to get involved in the lives of others then nothing will! It makes me question how I am doing in working this out in the lives of others that I am involved with.

This should be no huge surprise because the letters are full of strong statements about the joy in seeing others walking with Jesus. Indeed, John claims that he has no greater joy than to hear that his children are walking in the truth, while Paul describes the Thessalonians as his hope, joy and crown in which he will glory in the presence of Jesus when He returns.

It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

3 John 3-4 (or 2 John 4)

19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, 3:9-10

I too can testify to the huge thrill of watching others growing both in their faith, and in their joy in Jesus. It is why I do what I do, and I too look forward to the New Creation and seeing many whom God has given me the privilege of being involved with.

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

I finish with a quote from John Piper who has written extensively on the subject of delighting in Jesus. Piper writes that “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.”

God made us in His image and in His likeness. He is the God of joy and He has made us to delight in Him. When we do so, we find a joy that is inexpressible and glorious. This is the kind of joy that David speaks of in Psalm 16. He writes that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore at God’s right hand. This is something that grips my heart and I trust that should I ever do another 365 degree review others would observe that I am someone who is joyful in Jesus.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”

Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

See other posts in this series: 

  1. No Greater Joy
  2. The Joy of your Salvation: Living in Grace
  3. Consider it Pure Joy: Tough Times
  4. The Joy of our Hearts: God’s Word
  5. Overflowing Joy: Contentment
  6. Everlasting Joy: New Creation

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